Anyone who has undertaken a new way of life knows how challenging it is to leave behind old ways of thinking. It does not matter if a person is a recovering alcoholic or a monastic novice. Beginners everywhere learn quickly how many of their behaviors result from deeply conditioned habits. After a lifetime, these patterns can be difficult to change, much less eradicate.
Through this belief you may have life in his name. (Jn 20:31)
How has Jesus shared new life with you?
What unexamined habits or behaviors did you have to overcome?
Who do you know who needs a message of new life?
Living out the resurrection requires such a transformation. John the Baptist and Jesus called for metanoia, which is usually translated as “repentance,” but its fuller mean is something like “change of mind.” They knew that spiritual freedom required more than just acts of will. It required a new way of thinking that gives no room to previous habits and expectations. The first reading this week gives a superb example of this. The early Christians in Jerusalem shared a life that was starkly different from communities outside the church. In their prayer and care for each other, they gave the world an example of radically changed thinking.
The Gospel reading today shows how difficult such changes can be at first. Jesus won a victory not just over death, but over death’s grip on the human mind. His resurrection confounded the leaders who sought to gain by his death. He shared this victory with his disciples not with displays of power but with greetings of peace. He sent them out with the Spirit, not to do battle like Israel’s judges of old but to forgive sins and preach repentance.
Thomas too had to overcome his habits of thought. He initially responded exactly as the world had conditioned him to respond. Even if he had found his fellow disciples trustworthy in the past, he refused to believe their improbable story without the proof of his own senses. That Jesus returned a week later to give Thomas that very proof shows how much our Lord loved him and how important it was for them to understand and believe in his resurrection.Disciples in every generation must overcome the same conditioning in order to live out the resurrection. Our second reading fixes our minds on the children of God we can become—imperishable, undefiled, unfading. We do not have the opportunity that Thomas had, to put our hands on the physical wounds of Christ, but images like this can help us transform our minds without having seen. Historically, many people have seen the wisdom of Christ’s ethical teachings and even applied them to their acts and decisions. Fewer have been able to life without a habitual, if subconscious, fear of death. The apparent triumph of decay and loss over everything we hold dear can drive even the best of us to despair and cynicism. New life requires committed belief that Christ’s resurrection is a foreshadowing of our own. As this belief in our own resurrection grows in us, old habits rooted in fear of death and loss start to lose their power. We can forgive and teach others to do so; we can experience peace even in the midst of conflict; we can find reasons for faith when all around us despair; we can become servants of Christ’s mission, sharing his risen life with all we meet.